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Jersey City cannabis board approves four applicants

Three other applications were denied for various reasons

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board at their Sept. 12 meeting. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Jersey City Cannabis Control Board convened for the first time in a month on Sept. 12 to process the next round of retail cannabis applicants in the city before them.

In total, the board approved four applicants and denied three. The four approved included Aunt Mary’s in McGinley Square; Bud Space, Cream Dispensary and Cannaboutique by Greenhouse, who are all in Downtown.

The board also denied Canabee, who would’ve been located in the Heights, and two other applicants, Artistic Dispensary and Idyllx, for being too similar to each other.

Auntie’s going green

The first applicant approved unanimously was Aunt Mary’s, who are looking to create a dispensary at 706-710 Bergen Ave. in the McGinley Square neighborhood.

They were carried from their initial hearing on Aug. 8, with the board saying that before it was hard to understand them due to a language barrier, and were allowed to redo their testimony again.

Raj Patel of Cherry Hill testified to being the day-to-day manager, who said that this will be his first time running a dispensary and his aunt was the owner; he pitched his background of his dad first coming to the Jersey City area when he immigrated, as well as having friends and family there as well.

He noted his connections with a number of people and community organizations, as well as meeting the neighbors near their proposed location.

“Overall, I was able to meet 30 different businesses,” he said. “Some were neutral about us coming in; they didn’t mind; and some were really enthusiastic about us coming there. They were asking when we were going to open everything. But no[t] one of the people that I’ve talked to have said that they didn’t want us there.”

Alex Pereira and Raj Patel (seen left and center left respectively) are part of Aunt Mary’s as the first applicant approved by the Jersey City Cannabis Control Board on Aug. 12. Photo by Mark Koosau.

He also explained a four part plan for social equity and community impact, which includes creating a fund to donate one percent of their net profits to their community partners, compensating employees for volunteering with said partners, hosting expungement clinics, and creating a job referral network.

Alex Pereira from Antelope, California will be the director of operations, and has worked in the cannabis industry for about 15 years, ranging from manufacturing, cultivation, laboratory analysis and so forth. He said that he will focus on training and educating staff members and overseeing inventory sales.

The applicants explained that they plan to hire about 20 employees, all from Jersey City. Patel added that they will hire those that were impacted by the war on drugs, and offer $18-an-hour pay and benefits.

Before the board approved their application, Chairwoman Brittani Bunney asked the applicants to talk to Saint Peter’s University and Hudson Catholic, who are in the neighborhood, and come back with proof that they met with them before final approval by the cannabis board.

Aunt Mary’s was also approved for a conditional license by the state Cannabis Regulatory Commission last Friday, and also received approval to change their business name from Altus New Jersey to their current one.

Bring it around (Down)town

The second applicant approved unanimously was Bud Space, who are planning to create a dispensary on 270 Newark Ave. in Downtown.

They were also carried from their first hearing last month, with board attorney Ron Mondello explaining that there was almost no testimony at the time because the board wasn’t inclined to hear an applicant when their majority owner wasn’t present.

Ankita Mehta Shah of Morganville testified as the majority owner and manager of the applicant before the board. A six-year worker and currently the manager at the Bayonne Community Bank, she said she got interested in cannabis as the bank was certified to have cannabis accounts.

A meeting with Raj Mudhar from Jersey City, who runs operational service firm Green Buds and is the son of real estate parents, was what got her to start her new business.

Ankita Mehta Shah (seen center left) is planning to open Bud Space in Downtown. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“I deal with a lot of cannabis accounts on a day-to-day basis,” she said. “So I have the basic knowledge of compliance and regulations, and what does cannabis business do, what are the requirements, what are the tiers. So I think that should benefit me in this industry.”

Mudhar explained that he will be overseeing construction and the store’s design, and that his role with Green Buds will focus on local hiring, staff training and working with vendors. They also said that they have reached out to two organizations: Sarah’s Daughters and Redemption House.

Mukesh Patel from Mason, Ohio is also from Green Buds and said that he will be helping Shah and Mudhar with day-to-day operations, having opened a medical dispensary called About Wellness Ohio in Lebanon, Ohio.

The third applicant unanimously approved was Cream Dispensary, who would also be in Downtown at 284 First St., which currently houses the Hard Grove restaurant.

Cream Dispensary is technically the trade name of the store, with the Perennial Group being the entity that holds the license. They had previously received approval by the Planning Board back in April.

Cream’s Chief Financial Officer Alfredo Prasaguet, who has an address in Hallandale Beach, Florida but is up in the area so much that he resides in a Jersey City basement, said that they owned dispensaries in California such as the Mission Cannabis Club in San Francisco, and decided to come to the East Coast to be close with family after New Jersey legalized marijuana.

“We spent probably two or three months going up and down the coast of New Jersey trying to find the best locations,” he said. “I used to live in Oceanport about 16 years ago, I worked for the race track at the time at Monmouth, and I just fell in love with Jersey City when we came here. This became our spot.”

Alfredo Prasaguet (seen right) is the CFO of Cream Dispensary, who are planning for a store in Downtown. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The Perennial Group also consists of Nicole Renzi as Chief Executive Officer, John Caracciola as Chief Operating Officer, Heinrich Badenhorst as Chief Marketing Officer, and Karl Roberson as Chief Business Officer. Renzi, Caracciola and Roberson are all New Jersey residents, with Prasaguet and Badenhorst planning to move to Jersey City in November.

Prasaguet explained that they plan to fully hire from Jersey City with $19-an-hour wages plus benefits, and will require workers to do 120 hours of volunteer work that will be compensated for. He also plans to do job fairs and educational seminars, as well as working with the Minority Cannabis Academy.

The last applicant approved unanimously that night was Cannabotique by Greenhouse, also in Downtown on 125 Columbus Drive. At the beginning of their hearing, they agreed that they would bifurcate their application in regards to consumption lounges.

Julissa Bonilla, the owner of Greenhouse, pitched her story of being a lifelong Jersey City resident and a third-generation Puerto Rican who worked at Morgan Stanley and recently at Modern Bank as the vice president of marketing, before deciding to go to what she called the “green rush” instead of getting a promotion there.

She explained that the location she’s looking to create Greenhouse is an unused garage warehouse that will go through renovations and help “beautify” the space.

Bonilla continued that they aren’t allowed to have more than 10 employees as a microbusiness, but would like to have a $25-an-hour salary depending on experience and position, and will look at staffing agencies, local job fairs and advertisements such as with the Minority Cannabis Academy.

Julissa Bonilla (seen right) is the owner of Cannabotique by Greenhouse, who would also be in Downtown. Photo by Mark Koosau.

“We want to keep a wide open net,” she said. “We don’t want to limit ourselves especially since we only have 10 employees; [we] definitely want to make sure we get the right people the right opportunities. And of course, I will prioritize Jersey City residents.”

She also said that they have a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with SCORES Reentry, as well as reaching out to Pamela Johnson of the Jersey City Anti-Violence Coalition.

Lilia Diaz, who spoke on behalf of the Anti-Violence Coalition, supported Greenhouse, saying that what stuck out to them the most was that Bonilla was a local resident and a Latina, as well as her understanding of violence prevention.

“We believe in what Julissa and her company had to say and the impact they wanted to make in the community,” said Diaz.

The denied

The first applicant that was denied that night was Canabee, who would’ve had their store at 453 Palisades Ave. in the Heights.

It was their second and final time that they went before the board after being carried at the Aug. 8 meeting. Canabee’s attorney, Dennis Olleary, explained that the person behind the applicant, Diana Vasquez, is a lifelong Jersey City resident and a real estate businesswoman, who has a history of hiring women minorities.

Vasquez herself said that they had reached out to Councilman Yousef Saleh and had a meeting to go over different avenues and initiatives they could do for the community, and had also reached out to the Riverview Neighborhood Association and sent emails about the cannabis board meeting.

Diana Vasquez (seen center left) had her applicant for Canabee denied by the board. Photo by Mark Koosau.

The commissioners however had asked about their contact with the association, specifically if they had heard back from then. Vasquez said that after sending the emails that she didn’t, and the commissioners later grilled her on getting feedback from them.

“My concern is they’re a very active neighborhood association,” said Bunney. “It’s a very residential area, and it is across the street from a park. The direct community impact you’re going to have is on that residential neighborhood and people who are using the park every day.”

Vasquez attempted to counter the commissioners’ skepticism by saying that she grew up in the neighborhood and that her intention was to bring “goodness” to the park and help the community.

But the board wasn’t convinced and voted 2-0-1 to deny the application, with Bunney abstaining, Vice Chairman Jeffrey Kaplowtiz not being allowed to vote as he did not read the previous hearing, and Commissioner Courtney Sloane absent that night.

And then the confused

The last two applicants on agenda, Artistic Dispensary and Idyllx, were both unanimously denied by the board after the commissioners voiced confusion and concerns over the two of them being too similar to each other.

Artistic had gone up first, who would’ve had a store on 365 Central Ave. in the Heights, but Bunney soon raised concerns about them and Idyllx being related.

“The applications are almost identical,” she said. “There some of the same last names used in both applications. One is called Artistic Dispensary and the other one is called Artistic Smoke Shop, which is already in business. But the new one that you’re looking to open as called Artistic Dispensary.”

Bunney had expressed further confusion that while Artistic said Anugya Niraula of Secaucus is the single owner, the application lists Neeraj Pandey as a member of their business. She inquired Niraula if she knew where Pandey lived over confusion on his address, to which she then revealed she doesn’t know him.

“I’m sorry, if you don’t know who this person is, why is he a managing member on your business formation certificate?” asked Bunney. “How is that even possible?”

Artistic’s attorney John Mackewich tried to address the board’s confusion, saying that he formed both Artistic and Idyllx as well as doing their applications. He continued that Pandey was originally going to do Artistic, but then decided to do Idyllx, and subsequentially subleased the original location to the current applicants of Artistic.

“My goal as a cannabis attorney and a consultant – I’ve worked with social equity all over the country – is to draft applications as cheaply…not as cheaply, but as cost effectively as I can,” said Mackewich. “So I want to use the same form, the same template so that they don’t have a huge legal bill.”

Mackewich claimed that the applications have different MOUs, but the board rebutted by saying that they both had identical ones. Commissioner Stacey Flanagan also jumped in and said that the 365 Central Ave. address also currently houses a smoke shop.

The board ultimately decided to deny Artistic, before moving on to Idyllx. Bunney came out of the gate voicing her concerns about them being too similar to Artistic, as well as having too many locations in the applicant’s neighborhood at 171 Newark Ave., which is also a smoke shop, in Downtown.

Idyllx’s attorney David Feder, who also represented Artistic, had asked the board to table them, noting that they’ve been approved by the city’s Planning Board and had gotten a conditional license by the state.

But the board remained skeptical, with Bunney said that the documents that were provided to them were filled with errors, typos and misspellings and were “completely misleading.”

“I’m really versed in commercial real estate, and I couldn’t make heads or tails of ownership, site control, or where owners were living or who’s involved,” said Kaplowitz. “That to me is a red flag. It shouldn’t be approved.”

The board then voted unanimously to deny their application, which was the last one on the agenda that night.

For updates on this and other stories, check hudsonreporter.com and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Mark Koosau can be reached at mkoosau@hudsonreporter.com or his Twitter @snivyTsutarja.

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